By Yasmin Pascual Khalil
Google is in the middle of another dispute yet again. Last year, the global search engine giant paid $17 million to settle the Safari user tracking case and this year it faces a damaging $5 billion fine from the Commission of India (CCI) if found guilty for violating local norms. This antitrust probe was launched two years ago after a complaint from a consumer advocacy group called “Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International” was released regarding suspected anti-competitive practices. A similar complaint was filled later by matrimony.com.
Google agrees to extend its full cooperation to Indian authorities in their investigation stating, “We’re pleased that the conclusion of the Federal Trade Commission’s two year review was that Google’s services are good for users and good for competition. We are extending full co-operation to the Competition Commission of India in their investigation.”
While the company has settled similar cases in the States and the EU previously, following a similar protocol in this case won’t be possible as antitrust laws in India don’t allow companies to settle. With reference to Google’s settlement with the European Commission, Ferida Satarawala of matrimony.com was quoted saying “Google’s unfair use of trademarks as well as its retaliatory conduct are not specifically addressed in the European settlement and are distinct theories of harm being pursued by the CCI. Therefore, this settlement is unlikely to address CCI’s concerns in our case”.
The current reality is that the CCI can fine any company up to 10 percent of their three-year annual average turnover, in this case, Google stood at $49.3 billion. Another possible course of action is enforcing “structural remedies”, which forces a company to break up into separate, smaller commercial entities. For a detailed probe, CCI referred the matter to its investigation arm, Director General (DG), who has also gathered comments from third-parties regarding this case and is expected to submit a report to CCI soon.
Among the main allegations against Google include favoring its own products in search results, favoring paid searches, denial of access to content, and imposing of unfair and discriminatory conditions on ‘AdWords’ customers. Various reports have stated that the CCI doesn’t have provisions for a settlement process, making any progress in this case interesting.